Travel in South-East Asia may seem to be wild and exotic – but it is certainly not the path less travelled. This classic book was first published in 1853 by ‘Bengal Civilian’ (Charles Walter Himloch) as De Zieke Reiziger (‘The Invalid Traveller’), and is an account of the author and his wife’s travels from Penang, to Singapore, and on to Java in 1852 – a time before guidebooks, travel agencies and package tours. And while the times may have changed, the adventure and everyday frustrations are still the same. The pair travel for medical reasons, to recover from an unspecified ailment. Their travels are not really that different from today, except that there is no guidebook, and travel is often horse powered instead of petrol. But the extended delays, at-times perilous sea journeys, even the ease of passage requiring letters of recommendation (i.e. knowing some who can smooth your journey) are all too common today.
Many observations captured in the book are still (perhaps arguably) relevant today. For example: “The community of Singapore … is a community of merchants, whose whole time and thoughts are absorbed in money making…”, and “Dutch cooking … is disgusting”, the standard of accommodation often questionable, and travel between town on Java often taking longs periods of time.
What does stand this book apart are the observations of Java at the time when it was a Dutch colony. The author clearly has disdain for the Dutch, their cleanliness, dress sense, and cuisine, but if the reader can see through this, the book becomes a simple observation of life in Java at a time when it was emerging from an exotic unknown to the country it is today.